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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
144 pages
Jul 2004
Baker Tritton Press

Big-Rig Rustlers

by Max Anderson Elliot

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Chapter 1

        “Family meeting!”

        “Family meeting!”

        Any time Todd heard those words, he knew it was something big, really big! Like the day he first found out they’d be moving to the new house, or when their dad brought home a new car.

        We just got the new car two months ago, Todd thought, so it can’t be that.

        Todd might have been twelve-years-old, but he never got tired of hearing those exciting words,  “Family meeting!”

        “Family meeting!” his father called out again.

        Todd scratched his head through the blond hair he liked to keep as short as possible. He blinked his dark blue eyes, then scrambled down the stairs as fast as he could. He jumped the last four steps and burst into the den all out of breath.

“What is it?” he asked.

        “We have to wait till your sister gets here.”

        Just then Amanda, Todd’s ten-year-old sister came around the corner so fast she crashed right into half-blind, nearly deaf Stony, the family’s English Sheep Dog. Whenever Stony heard, “Family meeting!” he tried his best to get there first, but he never made it. Stony had been part of the family even before Todd and Amanda. Todd’s mother told him the dog was just one big kid himself.

Usually he was the last one to come bounding into the room, but this time Stony and Amanda got there at exactly the same time. They slammed into each other like two linemen on Monday Night Football and fell to the floor. One of Stony’s  paws got stuck in her blond ponytail. Amanda untangled her legs, arms, and hair from Stony’s gangly legs and scurried to join the others.

        “Good one, Mandy,” Todd teased. He and his sister were good friends . . . always had been. That probably was because Amanda could take it just as well as give it out.

        “I was just practicing how to flatten you in the back yard the next time we play football,” she said.

        “Only touch football,” her mother reminded.

        “Okay, Dad. Now what is it?” Todd begged.

        “My friends . . . and my enemies.” Todd’s father always began his speeches to the family like that. “I call to order this special meeting of the Brannon family.”

        Todd already liked the sound of that, a special meeting.

“You remember your Uncle Reid?”

        “Yeah, he has that big ranch out in Wyoming, doesn’t he?”

        “That’s the one.”

        “What about him?”

        “Well, your uncle has invited the two of you to visit the ranch during your spring break. Since you already get a week’s vacation, we’ve arranged for an extra week from school. You have to do all your regular work, plus write a paper about your experiences. It should work out perfectly.”

        “What should work out?”

        “He wants you to come for the spring roundup.”

        “I don’t get it,” Amanda said, “Who rounds up springs anyway?”

        “You don’t round up springs, Mandy. You round up cattle. We get to go out on a real western trail ride. Right Dad?”

        “That’s right. You will be camping out, and there will be a chuck wagon, horses, cowboys, and everything.”

        “Really?” Todd squealed. “This is so exciting! But Dad, how are we going to get there?”

        “Your Uncle Reid has it all worked out. We’ll take you to the airport and put you on a flight to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The airline will make sure you get where you need to go. It’s already been arranged.

        “When do we leave?” Amanda asked.

        “This Saturday. The day after you get out of school. It’s not much notice, but your mother and I thought it would be easier if you didn’t have a lot of time to wait before you leave.”

        “Now we have a lot to do,” their mother informed them. “I need to get your clothes all together, and you’ll have to help pack your things. One suitcase each!”

        The children ran back upstairs, “We’re going to Wyoming. We’re going to Wyoming!” They dashed to their rooms to start picking out what to pack.

        The rest of the week went by very fast for Todd. He thought it might drag because he was so excited, but there was a lot to do at school before they had their break. He scarcely had time to think about the trip. Finally, Friday night came, and it was time to do the final packing.

Their mother bought each of them some extra jeans and shirts that were more rugged than their normal school clothes. After all, the school bus ride each day was nowhere near as rough as the horseback riding they were expecting to do. Sleeping in their warm, soft, comfortable beds was much different than the campout conditions their father told them about.

        “There’s no way I’m going to get all this stuff into one suitcase,” Amanda complained from her room across the hall. “Todd, you got any more room in yours?”

        Todd walked into his sister’s room, but he couldn’t believe what he saw. Strewn all over her bed were matching outfits for every day of the week. On the chair she had six different jackets, and along the wall she had lined up at least eight pairs of shoes.

        “Hey, Mandy. We’re going to the Wild, Wild West not the White House. You’ve got way too much stuff here. Mom!” he yelled.

        “What is it?” she called from the kitchen.

        “Can you come up here a minute? Mandy needs some major help with all the junk she’s trying to take.”

        Their mother came into the room, and Todd saw the surprised look on her face. “Mandy . . . Sweetheart, you don’t need half of these things.”

        “But Mom, I want to look nice every day.”

        “Believe me, after a couple days on a smelly horse, it won’t matter. You’ll look worse than you can imagine, and your clothes will look ten times worse.”

        “Ick. Now I’m not so sure I want to go.”

        “Be serious, Mandy. You’re not going to a fashion show. Remember how everyone at school was so jealous of us.

        “I know, but you’re a boy, and boys don’t care how they look, especially when they go camping.”

        Amanda’s mother helped her put several outfits back in the closet. “Just three pairs of shoes,” her mother said.

        “Only three? Which three? I can’t decide.”

        “Tell you what,” Todd said. “Give me that pad of paper on your desk.” Amanda went over and got it.

        “Bring a pen, too.”

        She handed them both to her brother.

        “Now, I’m going to write the numbers from one to eight two times. I’ll slip a number into eight of the shoes for your right foot. Then I’ll write another eight numbers and mix them up. All you have to do is pick the numbers out of my hands. The first three numbers you pick will be the three pairs of shoes that get to make the trip with you.”

        “This isn’t fair. How could I ever decide?”

        “I’m taking care of that problem by having the drawing.”

        “Oh, all right.”

        Todd proceeded to write out two sets of numbers. He placed the first set, one at a time, in the right shoe of each pair, but not in order. Then he folded the other eight pieces of paper and mixed them up in his cupped hands.

        “Ready?” he asked.

        “I guess so.”

        “Then draw.” Todd tried to sound like a cowboy.

        “Hey, quit it. You sound like one of those guys in the dumb old westerns Dad likes to watch.”

        “Well, draw anyway.”

        Amanda reached in with her trembling little fingers and began to lift out the first piece of paper. Then she dropped it back.

        “I just know I won’t like that one.”

        “How can you tell? That might have been your favorite pair.”

        “Todd, you’re not helping!”

        She reached in again, and this time pulled out the number seven. Amanda quickly ran over to see which one would be first.

        “Oh, yuck. I hate that pair.”


        This time she picked out the number four which turned out to be her favorite.

        “Things are looking up,” Todd said.

        “As long as I have my favorite pair, I don’t care what the third one is. Why don’t you choose it?”

        Todd reached with his other hand and picked out number five. When his sister found that one she yelled, “That’s my second favorite. Thanks, Todd.”

        “You’re welcome.”

        “Can Mandy sleep in the extra bunk in my room tonight?” Todd asked. “We might as well get used to it.”

        “I don’t see why not,” his mother answered.

        “Just make sure you don’t stay up half the night,” their father warned from the doorway. “You’re going to need your rest for the big trip ahead.”

        “We won’t,” they agreed.

        By nine o’clock the two were snuggly in their beds. Then their parents came into the room for one last good night hug and kiss.

        “We’re very excited for you both,” their dad told them. “I’ve been out to my brother’s ranch once a few times. I know you’re gonna love it.”

        “We’ve only seen pictures, Dad. How big is it?” Todd asked.

        “Last I heard it was around eighty thousand acres.”

        “Eighty thousand acres! That’s almost more than our whole town. Why is it so big?”

        “You’ll see when you get there. The ranches in that area have to be big because not much grows out there. It isn’t like the rich farmland we have around here. The cattle go out as far as they have to searching for food. Sometimes it takes days to find them all again. That’s what the roundup is all about. You’ll be going out to bring in all the new calves that have been born.”

        “Do we get to help?”

        “Get to? On a ranch, everybody’s expected to pitch in and work,” Dad answered.

        “Better get to sleep now, kids,” their mother said. “I’m sure going to miss you two,” she added with a slight crack in her voice.

Todd could see tears beginning to fill her eyes. She quickly turned and went into the hall as his father quietly shut the door.

        Try as they might, neither Amanda nor Todd was about to fall asleep anytime soon.

        “Todd, have you ever ridden a real horse before?”

        “Well, sort of. You have, too.”

        “Me? When?”

        “Remember when we were both really small? We went on a pony ride at the county fair.”

        “Oh, that. The way those dinky little ponies were hooked together all they could do was walk around in a circle. Do you think it will be anything like that?”

        “Nothing at all like that. Where we’re going, if a horse decides to take off running and you don’t know how to stop him, you might wind up in Canada before he’s finished with you.”

        “I’m scared.”

        “You don’t need to be, Mand. I’m sure Uncle Reid will give us plenty of lessons.”

        “Do you think we’ll have to ride big, man-sized horses?”

        “Dunno. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

        “Aren’t there snakes out there, too?”

        “Yup. Great big rattlesnakes.”

        “Yikes. What are we going to do?”

        “Well, we won’t be out there all by ourselves you know.”

        “I know. I’m sure glad I’ll have you along. At a time like this, a big brother is a very good thing to have around.” This was much kinder that the she often talked about her brother.

        “I’m glad you get to go, too. Uncle Reid must have waited till he thought you were old enough. I think you’ll do okay.”

        “I sure hope so.”